Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Lucky Linderman is experiencing some tough things in his life. He’s always been bullied by Nader McMillan, the school’s resident asshole, but lately Nader has ratcheted it up a notch. His parents notice and care, but they’ve taken a hands-off approach that isn’t working. Lucky’s dad is more absorbed with his obsession over his father – Lucky’s grandfather – who went MIA in Vietnam and was never found. 

Lucky has had vivid dreams about his grandfather since he was a little boy. The dreams are so realistic that Lucky actually wakes up clutching physical items that he has somehow carried back from them. In the dreams, Lucky’s grandfather is a prisoner of war in Laos. Lucky’s belief that these dreams have some effect on real life convince him that he will be able to use the dreams to rescue his grandfather and bring him back home. These attempts are chronicled by number throughout the novel and provide a way for Lucky to work through things in his life with his grandfather, who has developed into his best friend (even if he is imaginary – or is he?).
Lucky’s also begun seeing ants, and not just during his dreams. They’re dancing on the furniture, following him to the grocery store, dressing up and giving him life advice.
After an argument between Lucky’s parents, his mom decides that a vacation with her brother and his wife – without Lucky’s dad – is just what they need. The novel jumps in time between the particularly bad summer preceding the trip, the dreams in Laos, and the visit to Lucky’s aunt and uncle.
The best thing about this novel is Lucky’s voice. He’s a
mess of contradictions. He’s depressed, but he’s maintained a wry sense of
humor. He claims he’s able to keep his head above water, but in reality he’s
floundering. He’s frustrated that his parents don’t seem capable of helping
him, but he doesn’t blame them. He feels sorry for himself, but he doesn’t
wallow. Basically, Lucky is the kind of guy you’d want to be friends with. He’s
the kind of guy you’d want to help – not because he seems pathetic, but because
he’s a good guy who’s struggling.
Though this is Lucky’s story, King does not people it with
flat ancillary characters. Everyone – with perhaps the exception of antagonist
Nader – is a fully-realized person with nuances. The subplot involving Lucky’s
aunt and uncle is a perfect example. At first, Lucky gets along swimmingly with
his uncle and can’t stand his aunt, but Lucky eventually learns a lot about
both people, and it broadens his understanding of them and their situation.
King is a whiz with interesting, meaningful metaphors. By
that I mean she uses devices like Lucky’s dreams and the ants to talk about the
Important Things like depression and bullying, but she also uses them to have
fun. The ants are frequently hilarious and Lucky’s dream-adventures with his
POW grandfather are action-packed and thrilling. It’s literary fiction with
popular appeal.
King is a master at what she does. Unlike many other
books I’ve read lately, there aren’t any rookie mistakes or places that could
have used more judicious editing. The book as a whole is so well done, instead
of putting it down and thinking, “I could do better than that,” I put it down
and thought “I wish I could do that.” Highly recommended, and I hope it gets a little Printz love at awards season.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Everybody Sees the Ants is available now.
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